How to get the help you need despite a 911 outage
Oct. 15, 2020
If you had an emergency on the night of Sept. 28 and tried to call 911 for help, it’s possible you couldn’t get through for about one hour and 17 minutes. Because of a multi-state outage of the 911 system, at least 1,187 calls to 64 Minnesota public safety answering points (PSAPs), or 911 dispatch centers, failed to be routed. The outage affected six other states including Arizona, Colorado, North Dakota, North Carolina, South Dakota and Utah.
No matter the reason for the outage, The Minnesota Department of Public Safety division of Emergency Communication Networks (DPS-ECN) expects 911 to be reliable and dependable – and so do you. That’s why the DPS-ECN worked diligently with Minnesota’s 911 service provider, CenturyLink, to understand the cause of the disruption. By law, CenturyLink had 14 business days from the date of the outage to investigate and release a reason for the disruption. Today, CenturyLink says one of their subcontractors made a mistake in configuring the network on its platform, which failed to correctly forward traffic to the 911 call centers.
That subcontractor is Intrado and is the same CenturyLink partner that took responsibility for the outage of Minnesota’s 911 system on Aug. 1, 2018. An investigation into the 2018 outage by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) directed CenturyLink to take additional steps to ensure the dependability of the 911 system. The Minnesota PUC is the regulatory authority over CenturyLink and Intrado. For this outage, Intrado has already claimed responsibility. The Federal Communications Commission will also conduct a review that could result in fines for both companies.
So how would you know if there is an outage? If you call 911 while there’s a service disruption, you’ll either hear a fast busy signal, or the phone will keep ringing without an answer. If that happens, try Text-to-911. It may be operational when traditional 911 isn’t (although that was not the case during this most recent disruption). Just remember that you should always call if you can and text if you can’t.
If you can’t get through using Text-to 911, try calling 911 from either a land line or cell phone that uses a different carrier. And if none of that works, look up the 10-digit, 24-hour number for your county’s dispatch center. In fact, that’s a good number to have at the ready anyway. Post it beside your landline or put it in your cell phone contacts so you don’t have to worry about tracking it down in an emergency. Remember: If they are in different counties, there will be a different 10-digit number for the 911 dispatch center assigned to your home, your work and your cabin.
As managers of the Minnesota 911 system, DPS-ECN’s priority is that it remains robust, secure and state-of-the-art. But if something should go unexpectedly wrong, you can plan ahead to get the help you need when you need it most.